Bill Green’s no good very bad week

by pkerkstra on June 22, 2011

There is a degree of anonymity in being one of 17, even when the one in question is a future mayoral contender like Councilman Bill Green. Mayors are poked and prodded daily: by the press, by their opponents, and above all by the 17 City Council members they must wrangle to force their agendas through.

Council members are rarely subjected to the same sort of examination, which makes a seat on council the ideal spot from which to take shots at the mayor. For reference, see: Councilman Michael Nutter and Mayor John Street, and, now, Councilman Bill Green and Mayor Michael Nutter.

For the most part, that’s fine. It’s inevitable and proper that the mayor gets more scrutiny than anyone else. But it is worthwhile to zoom in on figures like Green from time to time. And last week was a telling one for the Councilman.

Green’s week began with a confrontation with the Board of Ethics, and not for the first time. It’s not that Green was being brought up on some violation. Rather, it was a case of the Councilman objecting to Too Much Ethics. He felt the board had overstepped its bounds with plans to enforce a new law closing a campaign finance loophole differently—and more rigorously—than Council had intended.

What makes his objection interesting is that Green was the chief beneficiary of the loophole, which allowed political action committees to funnel money through other PACs to favored candidates above and beyond the annual donation limit, which last year was $10,600. The workaround enabled Green to collect at least $40,000 from Local 98, the John Dougherty-run electricians union, as reported by the Inquirer‘s Bob Warner.

Days after his ethics board challenge, Green played a central role in destroying the fragile coalition Nutter had assembled to pass his tax on sugary drinks. To get that done, though, Green had to get a little dirty. He traded one vote for another, and ended up supporting a bill—one requiring Philadelphia businesses to offer paid sick leave—that he was already on the record opposing as bad for business.

To top his week off, Green joined with the big council majority in opting to revise the wildly unpopular DROP pension perk, instead of killing it off completely as Nutter had called for.

All in all, not a great week for a councilman and future mayoral candidate who has cultivated an image as a pro-business budget hawk with a passion for accountability.

And Green knows it.

“I knew when I was doing these things I was going to have to polish up my armor again,” Green told me.

Green defends his calls last week thusly:

He challenged the ethics board, he said, because it was encroaching on “council’s power and prerogative, which I’ve defended at every turn. We can’t have regulatory bodies making law through regulations. Council makes the law.”

He flip-flopped on the sick leave bill, he said, because it was the only way to prevent the tax on soda. “Leadership is occasionally doing things you don’t want to do to get the best result for taxpayers,” Green said, noting also that the Mayor may well veto the bill.

And he voted to preserve DROP—in a slimmed-down form—because he thought he had a better chance to shape the legislation (which had plenty of support on council) from the inside. “I could either help craft the legislation and try to influence it to make it cost neutral, or I could be outside the room jumping up and down like the Mayor was.”

Fair enough. But how much longer can Green get away with being considered a crusading outsider bent on shaking up City Hall when he’s trading votes, fighting the ethics board and defending DROP? That’s not exactly rage against the machine material. It’s more like council’s default behavior.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Nutter bloodied

by pkerkstra on June 21, 2011

Nutter was bloodied badly in this latest round with Council. The guy has actually accomplished some things, but he’s so bad at the political end of the job that it’s sharply limiting his mayoralty. My take is in the Inquirer. Excerpt:

It’s getting harder and harder to find signs of the mayor that Michael Nutter wanted to be.

The man who won office as the city’s greatest tax-cutting champion is now the guy who is disappointed when City Council raises property taxes only 3.8 percent, instead of doubling the price of soda as he’d asked.

The mayor who made education the central theme of his inaugural address was forced to resort to a nine-page temper tantrum – CC’d to the world – to remind his own school board appointees that hello, he is the mayor and he does matter.

The politician who rallied the city around his cry of throwing the bums out of City Hall couldn’t even pass legislation killing DROP, the politically toxic retirement perk that cost Frank Rizzo his Council job.

Apart from the sting of defeat, the problem for Nutter with these ugly – and frequent – political humiliations is that they overshadow his administration’s actual accomplishments.

Black, white, and increasingly irrelevant

by pkerkstra on June 8, 2011

After leaving the Inquirer, I spent five months on a project for PlanPhilly in eastern North Philadelphia, a neighborhood where black and Latino Philadelphia meet. It was a fascinating place, and I learned a lot covering the story. One of the lessons was this: City Hall doesn’t reflect the city any more. Philly’s power structure is so stuck in the old black/white dynamic of the past that it’s ignored – at its own peril, I think – the changing demographics of the city. If it weren’t for growing Asian and Latino populations, the city would have lost a lot of residents over the last ten years. Anyway, I looked at this issue for the Inquirer. Excerpt:

For most of Philadelphia’s history, the tense, delicate balance (and imbalance) between black and white has shaped and defined the city.

Political power, economic conditions, the city’s unique culture; all of it has flowed from the interplay between these two Philadelphias.

But it’s not that simple anymore. The latest census figures – which say 21 percent of city residents are now neither white nor African American – make it foolish to view Philadelphia through the binary racial prism of the past.

It looks like the strange, strained alliance between Mayor Nutter and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is finally over, a victim of good news delivered at the wrong time. The split came Friday, when Ackerman announced—much to Nutter’s surprise—that she had found a way to fund all-day kindergarten despite the school district’s budget crisis.

This is, of course, a positive development. But it also robbed the mayor of his best argument for a tax hike to generate new cash for the schools. Kindergarten was his ace card in the coming showdown with council. He could say: Help me help the kids. Let’s reduce childhood obesity and rescue kindergarten with a soda tax.

Then Ackerman cut Nutter off at the knees. She found a way to use restricted federal funds to pay for kindergarten, and she didn’t tell Nutter about any of it until an hour ahead of the public announcement.

The Mayor looked out of the loop. Worse, he looked opportunistic. If full-day kindergarten could be salvaged with a little bureaucratic shuffling, what was he doing acting as though only tax hikes could save the children? He was, as Tom Ferrick likes to put it, threatening to kill the kitty.

And so Nutter, who had stood by Ackerman through her bungling of racial violence at South Philadelphia High, her mishandling of contracts and an ongoing federal audit (to name just a few controversies), hit Ackerman back. Hard.

In a nine-page letter delivered to Ackerman (and the press) Sunday night, Nutter demanded that the school district open its books. He demanded more city say in what the district does with its money. He implied that the district, and the School Reform Commission, was not sufficiently accountable to him and City Council.

The letter was a highly public takedown. It also came across as a guy letting off some steam, and finally saying things he pretty clearly has been thinking for a while. Nutter, more than just about any pol in this town, has a mania for transparency, accountability and process. I don’t mean to imply that his administration always practices what the Mayor preaches. It doesn’t. But Nutter rarely misses a chance to demand accountability from other players: the BRT, the Sheriff’s Office, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions, the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

And yet he bit his tongue repeatedly for Ackerman’s sake. Some surmise it was to shore up his support in the African American community, particularly the city’s established black leadership. Others think it was because he was focused on test scores and graduation rates, where Ackerman has gotten results.

That’s all over now. In an interview with the Inquirer yesterday, Ackerman tried to mend fences. She apologized to the mayor. Kind of.

“I made an educational decision, which obviously had political fallout,” Ackerman told the Inquirer. “I had good intentions. I’m sorry for whatever embarrassment this caused for the Mayor.”

Translation: I did it for the kids. Unlike Nutter I wasn’t worried about petty things like politics.

Now it’s not really a big deal that the Mayor was embarrassed. Who cares about Nutter’s feelings, after all, if it means full-day kindergarten is back? But relationships matter in politics. And if the incident has cost Ackerman yet another ally, her highest-profile supporter of all, then it is a very big deal. Without Nutter at her back, how much longer will Ackerman collect a paycheck in this town?

(This originally appeared in PhillyPost)

Nutter’s humiliation

by pkerkstra on May 18, 2011

The dozen or so Philadelphia voters who turned out  yesterday provided answers to a few questions I raised ahead of Tuesday’s election.

1. Was Michael Nutter embarrassed?
Oh yeah. Milton Street took about 24 percent of the vote, just a shade below the admittedly arbitrary 25 percent marker some people (like myself) had set as the humiliation hurdle. But just as important as the votes Street got were the ones nobody got. Of the 196,000 Philadelphians who voted, Nutter got just 111,000 votes. Republican candidates accounted for only about 16,000 votes, and Street got just 35,000. That means over 30,000 voters couldn’t bring themselves to pull the lever for Nutter or Street, a figure that is surely tempting John Street, Tom Knox and maybe some others mulling over Independent campaigns against Nutter in November.

The election also underscored how big a problem Nutter has with poor and working-class African American voters. In some predominantly black North Philadelphia wards, Street collected 40 percent of the vote.

A caveat. An election like this, with pathetic turnout and no viable opponent to contrast himself with, is not a perfect reflection of how the broader city electorate feels about Nutter. But it says something alright.

2. Whither the GOP?
Frank Rizzo lost. That’s really all you need to know to understand the massive changes now taking place in the city’s Republican Party. In fact, Rizzo was destroyed, placing seventh in the GOP at-large City Council race.

The momentum now seems entirely with the reform wing of the city GOP, which has sought for several years now to oust the old leadership, which is pretty cozy with the Democratic party. Al Schmidt, the unofficial leader of that insurgency, won one of two GOP nominations for City Commissioner. David Oh, who is considered another Republican reformer, was the top vote-getter in the at-large GOP council race. The Republican mayoral primary is still too close for me to call, with less than 100 votes separating party-backed Karen Brown from reformer John Featherman.

3. Did reform voters show?
Not on the Democratic side, not really. Yes, DROP mascot Marge Tartaglione appears to have narrowly lost her re-election bid. But otherwise all Democratic incumbents were re-elected (albeit narrowly in some cases), and the candidates who won nominations in open seats were generally backed by established figures like Nutter and John Dougherty.

4. So who won the Doc-Nutter City Council faceoff?
I’m calling this a split decision. Bobby Henon, Dougherty’s candidate in the sixth district, trounced Nutter-backed Marty Bednarek. But seventh district incumbent Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who Nutter endorsed, beat back Doc-supported Daniel Savage. There is no question that Dougherty will wield more influence in the next council, but a lot of his candidates—like Bill Green and Mark Squilla—were endorsed, at least on paper, by Nutter as well.

5. How diverse is the new council?
Not very. Sanchez’s re-election means council will retain its sole Latino member, but Asian Democratic at-large candidate Andy Toy fell short despite a well-funded, slick campaign. On the GOP side, David Oh’s strong showing suggests he has an excellent chance of becoming City Council’s first Asian representative.

Bonus question I didn’t ask, but should have: How pissed are voters really about DROP?
Very, very pissed. Had they never enrolled in DROP, I bet Rizzo and Tartaglione both would have won re-election.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

No, really. I mean it. To a point. My column for the Inquirer is here. Excerpt:

What if – and it pains me to write this – the Parking Authority is right and the rest of us are wrong? I’m not talking about the agency’s patronage record and exorbitant executive salaries, which are indefensible. But, rather, its view that parking, particularly in a dense urban setting such as Philadelphia, is a limited resource that should be costly and rigorously policed.

This position starts to make a lot of sense when you look at parking as a commodity like any other, instead of some sort of natural right.

Land has value. Land at, say, 18th and Walnut Streets has a ton of value. So when a driver parks a Cadillac Escalade the size of a small BYOB in an open spot in Center City, he or she really ought to be paying full market rate for the privilege.

The trouble is, the true market rate of parking has been so thoroughly obscured by government regulations and subsidies (which dwarf those for mass transit) that drivers often feel outraged even when asked to pay a relative pittance for street parking, such as the $2 an hour the PPA charges on its busiest blocks.

Pity the neglected Republican Philadelphia mayoral candidates. They have no chance at actually winning elected office. Their motives for running are constantly questioned. And their best shot at getting some media attention is to rob a bank.

One of the candidates, real estate agent John Featherman, has resorted to provocative online-only “ads” to get someone, anyone, to pay attention to the race. And I do mean provocative. His latest features a stripper and a pair of cigar-smoking party bosses. It is arguably NSFW. An earlier spot from Featherman was far more subtle: It starred Moammar Gadhafi, who was being offered asylum in Philadelphia.

Featherman’s opponent, Karen Brown, has had an easier time attracting press, but mostly because she’s declared bankruptcy four times, and faced foreclosure action five times. Oh, and she was a Democratic committeewoman until about 15 minutes before the filing deadline for the primary election, when GOP party bosses enlisted her to run.

Brown attributes her financial woes to her husband’s health problems, which were certainly grave. She has a harder time, though, explaining her switch in parties. Brown says city spending is out of control. But she also laments the cuts to government services: reductions in police and fire budgets (police and firefighters should be paid more, she says, not less), the school funding crisis and aid to seniors like her mother. It’s political schizophrenia. She wants big government with low taxes.

Plus—and maybe I’m being petty here—she can’t spell. Or at any rate, her campaign can’t. Take a look at the “action plan” on her website, where she calls for the city to “diverate” money to basic services and “Revise all Business Taxes through Cost Cutting Measures within City Hall and Hiring Incentatives.” Sic all of that: the grammar, the spelling, the random capitalization.

Believe it or not, though, this absurd primary is not all farce. Brown vs. Featherman is really a campaign pitting the old city GOP interests—the guard led by Michael Meehan, and represented in this case by Brown—against insurgent Republicans who want the organization to work at becoming a viable opposition party, instead of the subservient bit player it has been for decades.

Featherman, the insurgent candidate, got beat up a little bit by fellow Philly Post blogger Larry Mendte when Featherman admitted he wasn’t in the race to take out Michael Nutter. But I give the guy credit for recognizing the obvious and for copping to his real objective.

“My goal is to win the primary so I can legitimately say ‘the machine is dead, and Meehan, I respectfully ask you to step aside,’” Featherman told me.

Although totally lacking in taste, Featherman’s latest ad effectively makes the case that the city GOP exists largely to consume whatever patronage crumbs the Democrats throw its way. That arrangement works well for the leadership of both parties, but it’s hard to see how it’s healthy for the city as a whole. How much better off would Philadelphia’s political culture be if the GOP could muster a candidate as qualified and legitimate as Sam Katz every four years?

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Fighting blight in spartan times

by pkerkstra on May 3, 2011

It’s not what you could really call a comprehensive redevelopment plan, not yet, but for the first time since Mayor Nutter took office, his administration is developing a coherent plan for helping out some of Philadelphia’s neediest neighborhoods. It’s called Philly Rising, and it’s showing some real promise.

Until now, it’s been hard to discern what, exactly, the Nutter administration was doing to help out the city’s most-troubled blocks. Though some would surely say otherwise, the problem wasn’t lack of concern. City officials—including a lot of bright folks from Fels—spent a lot of time analyzing data and looking at maps (former Managing Director Camille Barnett is very fond of maps) that charted out all that ails Philadelphia’s most distressed neighborhoods.

Somehow, though, all that earnest analysis didn’t lead to many improvements on the ground. Then, a little over a year ago, at the suggestion of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the administration began trying something new.

The approach was modest—in budget (there is none, really) and scope (just five square blocks at a time)—but it was rooted in a novel concept. The city would first ask residents what the neighborhood needed, and then get them to commit to helping the city make the changes happen.

“We’re not coming in with a ton of money. I think the biggest change is we’re treating the people in these areas as partners rather than as clients of the city or service recipients,” said John Farrell, a deputy city managing director who is heading up Philly Rising.

There are a few challenges here. The first is in getting city departments and agencies—not all of which answer directly to Mayor Nutter—to participate. Another is convincing local residents and community groups, many of whom have little faith in the city, to buy in. In Hartranft, where Philly Rising got its start, those challenges largely seem to have been overcome. Violent crime in the neighborhood declined by 16 percent last year, far better than the rest of the police district.

The neighborhood also has a new computer lab, a reclaimed public pool (it was there all along, just not in use) and empty lots where once 14 crumbling, abandoned buildings stood, serving as havens for drug dealers.

The computer lab is a good example of how Philly Rising works. Farrell cadged the computers from Temple University, which was replacing the machines with newer models, and convinced the local elementary school to open a section of the building up at night to local adults trying to get their GEDs. Since the lab is staffed entirely by neighborhood volunteers, the community now has a significant new asset at virtually no cost to the public.

Make no mistake. NTI this is not. There will be no big bonds for acquiring and clearing vacant land, no major new departmental outlays. To date, it has been funded purely out of the existing budget, and Nutter has asked Council for just a half million more next year to expand the program.

Farrell is optimistic that the city can move the needle on crime and quality of life problems in a meaningful way with this approach. I wonder, though, if Philly Rising can really work on a larger scale. I get that city departments can give a little extra here and there to help out a few neighborhoods at a time without big new budget outlays. I’m skeptical it can be done in dozens of neighborhoods at once, without it showing up on the bottom line.

But I hope I’m wrong. And, at minimum, the effort looks like it has given some direction and renewed vigor to the Nutter administration’s neighborhood strategy.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Philadelphia’s Democratic party is, to say the least, not known for being forward thinking. It prefers to cling tenaciously to the old ways, time-honored values like street money, favor-trading and incumbency. Philadelphia may change—look around, it obviously is—but the party tries its damnedest not to.

The Inquirer this week reported that the U.S. Census found that African Americans are now the single-largest ethnic group in Philadelphia. That’s noteworthy, but I think dwelling on that risks missing the bigger story. Both the white and black populations in Philadelphia are declining, it’s just that African Americans are leaving the city a little more slowly than whites. The real story, it seems to me, is the growth of the city’s Latino and Asian neighborhoods. These communities now account for 21 percent of the city as a whole, according to the new Census numbers.

When I read that, I thought of the city’s Democratic party, an institution that is still all about the delicate balance of power between white and black in this city. There are no Asians holding an elected city office in Philadelphia, and only one Latino, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who represents the seventh council district.

The seventh district is, by some reckonings, the most gerrymandered electoral district in the nation. Its twisted shape defies all logic, unless the logic is to try and deny Hispanics in the city a district of their own, in which case its shape makes a lot of sense.

But even the torturous boundaries of the district were not enough to prevent Sánchez’s election in 2007, when she won without party support against Daniel Savage, a party guy who had been appointed to the seat by ward leaders to serve out the rest of imprisoned Rick Mariano’s term in office.

Sánchez has been a good addition to council. What’s more, she’s an incumbent now, which, for the party, is arguably the most important credential of all. Even so, a majority of ward leaders in the seventh council district are supporting Savage, who is white, over Sánchez.

Whatever Savage’s qualities (he is a likable guy, but his resume does not suggest the city will wither away without his services), it seems borderline retrograde for ward leaders in the seventh district to endorse a white challenger over a Latino incumbent, solely because Savage is faithful to the party. I don’t mean to suggest they’re motivated by racial animus, because I don’t think that’s the case. It’s more like personal animus; they’re offended that Sánchez dared defy them. But it does smack of standing on the wrong side of history and the city’s changing demographics.

“I’m extremely disappointed at the Democratic Party and its leadership and its inability to relate to its constituents,” Sánchez told me. “Latinos are a key part of the Democratic base, and the fact that they cannot support the only Latina in office and that they’re willing to against their own incumbency rule demonstrates just how out of the touch they are.”

Sánchez is the only Latino seeking a high-profile city office this election, but there are two well-qualified Asian candidates campaigning for at-large council positions: Democrat Andy Toy and Republican David Oh.

Neither is assured victory, but both should at least post respectable vote totals. And you have to think that, eventually, demographics will win out, and the city will eventually have its share of Latino and Asian elected leaders. When that happens, it’ll be in spite of Philadelphia’s Democratic party, not because of it.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

John Street’s campaign strategy

by pkerkstra on April 20, 2011

John Street does not want to be mayor. Not again. He has said this many times, to many people, including me. “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. Believe me,” Street said. “People ask me to run all the time. I tell them, ‘You think it’s a good plan for me between the ages of 68 and 76 to be in City Hall?’ … If I were 10 years younger I might think about it.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that Street assumes were he to run and win he’d serve two terms, not just one. Street told me this last fall, back when he was trying—and failing—to goad someone, anyone, into challenging Michael Nutter in the Democratic primary.

Sadly for Street, the only one to answer the call was his brother, Milton.

Now it looks like the former mayor is rethinking things. He has changed his voter registration status from Democrat to Independent. That gives him the option to run against Nutter in November’s general election. It’s not because he suddenly wants to be mayor again. He got bored with the job last time around. Remember Street’s final year in office? Yeah, I don’t either.

But for Street, the idea of another four years of Michael Nutter is so intolerable, so infuriating, that he just might do it.

If he runs, he’s a serious contender, and don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. For everyone who hates John Street in this town, there’s someone else who loves the guy. He’d start with 20 percent to 30 percent of the vote the day he entered the race, maybe more. But let’s save his electoral prospects for another day.

What interests me is what is going on inside Street’s mind. Because the real question here is this: Is he really considering running, or is he just screwing with Nutter’s head? I doubt if Street himself knows the answer to that question yet, but you cannot underestimate the depth of his personal and professional disdain for Michael Nutter.

I only got a handle on it myself when Street and I met to discuss Nutter last fall at the gazebo by the Art Museum overlooking the Fairmount Water Works. The former mayor was dressed in an orange Ralph Lauren Polo baseball hat, a black windbreaker with rainbow stripes, creased black dress pants and a pair of Nike running shoes. He looked very, very retired.

But then, for the next two hours, he relentlessly and convincingly attacked nearly every aspect of Nutter’s tenure in the mayor’s office. It was the best critique I’d heard of the Nutter administration. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t balanced. In some respects, it is not accurate (the branch libraries were never closed, people). But to me it sounded like a case that would convince a lot of voters that Nutter was not the best choice for them. It sounded like a preview of the campaign Street just might mount against his old foe.

Street on Nutter’s political failings
If you can get to nine (council votes) you can do anything you want to do. In order for council to do what it wants to do, it has to get 12. This is really a strong mayor form of government. Council can’t make you spend money you don’t want to spend. The mayor estimates all revenues. If you can’t get your way in this government (Street was laughing as he said this) you couldn’t get your way anywhere. I mean, the mayor has all the cards. Listen, I mean Nutter and some people up there fought me on anything but I always got what I needed. Every single time, I got what I needed.

Street on Nutter as mayor
I think he has been a bad mayor. He’s been a bad mayor for everyone. But he’s also been a horrible mayor for neighborhoods, and he has been especially bad for poor people and given the poverty rates in the African American community and unemployment rates and all of that he’s been horrible, horrible for us.

It’s the aggressive implementation of stop and frisk in the city that I think has fallen disproportionately on poor neighborhoods, largely African American neighborhoods and black men. It’s his decision to not appeal an arbitration agreement that allows the police to move out of the city. It’s his selling of Camp William Penn. It’s his decimation of the reentry program that we had that was one of the best in the country that now does almost nothing. It’s the way he with some degree of arrogance eliminated the after-school programs. He got rid of 400 parent truant officers in his first 30 days in office, and he didn’t even know he had a financial problem then.

He got rid of the curfew centers. He got rid of the adolescence violence reduction program. He just decimated these programs, and he did it in a way that failed to take into account the needs of these communities. He just almost randomly closed swimming pools in the city, in neighborhoods where these kids don’t have anything else to do and then in his election year he opened them all back up.

He’s closing branch libraries. Branch libraries are more than just a place where a family goes to pick up a book or two. These libraries have very important after-school programs in them. They represent a safe haven for people in communities where people are poor and a lot of time both parents are working. It’s just a long list of stuff. And it was as though the poverty factor associated with many of these communities didn’t matter.

Street on Nutter’s 2007 campaign
I actually think his opponents gave that election to him. I think it was theirs to lose, and they found a way to lose it. I think Neil Oxman did a great job in representing him … What Neil did was very creatively use my negatives in the community at large, mostly the white community, to advance Nutter’s interest and that’s fair. I don’t have any problems with that. Listen, in politics, there are rules. As long as you stay within those boundaries—and there’s an awful lot of space in those boundaries—and Neil Oxman and Nutter and them stayed within the boundaries, by and large, and they won. That’s politics.

Street on Nutter’s tax policy
Why would he want to charge two cents an ounce for sugar water? Doesn’t he know how disproportionately bad that’s going to be on poor people and especially poor African Americans who are stuck in these neighborhoods? A flat trash tax, or these property taxes. Let me tell you something. Most of the poor areas of this city [that] are occupied predominantly by African American families are all overassessed. These people are paying too much taxes now. And we’re a community that can’t be happy with the fact that all he’s done is raised taxes, and he hasn’t solved any of the city’s underlying economic problems.

Street on stop and frisk
Black people told Mayor Nutter when he was a candidate: ‘Don’t do this to us. This is not a good idea.’ It’s not like they weren’t doing stop before. [Street Police Commissioner] Sylvester Johnson did stop and frisk. But it was very different. It wasn’t some major strategy that was going to be implemented. But Nutter has done it to the extreme. He was kind of Giuliani-like in his approach to stop and frisk. (Street stressed in the interview that he blames Nutter alone, not Commissioner Ramsey or rank and file cops.)

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

A City Council with a pulse

by pkerkstra on April 19, 2011

Philadelphia City Council is a little bit like the ocean. Ancient. Unchanging. And deep. OK, so the metaphor isn’t perfect. The point is that council, most of the time, evolves very, very slowly. It is not unusual for district council members to log decades in City Hall. Hell, it’s almost the norm.

Which is what makes this primary election so unusual. Five incumbents—with a cumulative 124 years in council between them (yes, seriously)—are retiring. City Council President Anna Verna is among them. At minimum, then, Philadelphia next year will have five new council members (maybe more, as some incumbents are in competitive races) and a new council president. In this town, that counts as a revolution.

At the macro level, the elections give Michael Nutter a chance to build a block on council that will support him, as detailed in a solid piece of political analysis in the Inquirer this week.

Nutter, who in the past has endorsed candidates sparingly, is likely to back long-time Councilwoman Marian Tasco for president. He’s also thrown his support behind Fattah-machine candidate Cindy Bass in the Eighth District to replace Donna Reed Miller, and the newspapers are reporting he plans to announce soon his support for Mark Squilla in the First District to replace Frank DiCicco, State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson in the Second District to replace Anna Verna, and Marty Bednarek in the Sixth District to replace Joan Krajewski.

A few of these races are proxy fights between Nutter and the resurgent Johnny Doc. Dougherty is backing Local 98’s political director Bobby Henon over Bednarek, and he seems to be thinking about supporting Councilman Darrell Clarke for the council presidency.

Sort of sounds like the same old thing, right? The city’s power players fighting among themselves and treating council as a kind of cage match. But even so, I suspect the new members, however indebted they may be to Nutter, Doc or ward leaders, will change the tone and direction of City Council.

Whoever replaces Verna is unlikely to run council as benevolently (or ineffectually, depending on your point of view) as she did. And the last class of council freshmen—which included Doc-backed Bill Green and Fattah-backed Curtis Jones Jr.—shook up an ossified council, in a very good way. This time there will be at least five, and maybe more. Democrat Bill Rubin might have a chance this fall at knocking off longtime Republican Councilman Brian O’Neill in the 10th district. It seems unlikely that he’ll actually lose, but DROP-tainted Frank Rizzo is facing his toughest reelection bid in a long time. And it’s always possible that a strong Democratic at-large candidate like Andy Toy or Sherrie Cohen could knock off an incumbent.

A lot of this, believe it or not, is due to DROP, the much loathed pension perk. Verna, Krajewski, Miller, DiCicco, Kelly—each and every one of them is enrolled in the retirement program. Are you still sure you hate it?

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Milton Street: Serious fringe

by pkerkstra on April 15, 2011

For Michael Nutter, nothing good can come of Milton Street’s bid for mayor. Nutter is going to win. Obviously. But there’s a lot more to a reelection campaign than winning, particularly when you’re an ambitious mayor heading into a second term after a difficult couple of years. Nutter presumably wants to spend the next few months articulating his agenda for a second term and rebuilding his image. Street makes that a lot harder.

There are signs that Nutter is considering actually wrangling with Street, but I think he’ll ultimately choose to ignore him. What’s the upside for the mayor in engaging with a clown like Milton Street? Better for Nutter to treat Street like a Philadelphia version of Lyndon LaRouche, a fringe candidate unworthy of discussing.

But there are perils to ignoring him as well. Unlike LaRouche, Street is capable of attracting the attentions of the local press, if only because of his antics. More worrisome for Nutter is the possibility that Street could attract protest votes from an embarrassingly large number of residents who would have preferred to see Nutter face a serious challenger in the May primary. That just would not look good, particularly if Street’s votes are from largely African American wards, where the mayor is weak. And this is pretty clearly Street’s game: to humiliate Mayor Nutter by running what Daily News columnist Elmer Smith called a “blacker-than-thou campaign.”

Short of a candidate who could actually beat him (and there didn’t seem to be any of those), this is the worst of all possible match-ups for Nutter. No margin of victory would be impressive, given how marginal Milton Street is. Nutter has no opportunity to sharpen his message and look good in comparison to a credible rival because, after all, Street is just a joke. And to top it off, there is a decent possibility Street will win a not insignificant number of votes.

Nutter understands the risks, I think. Why else would Nutter’s pollster be asking voters what they would think if the mayor ran negative ads against Street? Why else would the mayor try (but fail) to have Street bumped from the ballot? Some thought that was stupid, a case of the mayor playing the hot dog vendor’s game. I think Nutter was right to try: If he succeeded, he could have avoided a serious headache.

But he didn’t. And now instead of a smooth roll-out of Nutter 2.0, he has to contend with former federal prisoner Milton Street.

Lest we forget, there is a general election after May’s primary, where Nutter will face the winner of the GOP primary, which features real estate agent John Featherman and party-endorsed Karen Brown, who last month was a registered Democrat.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

City unions disgrace themselves

by pkerkstra on April 13, 2011

Union bashing is cheap and, most of the time, unwarranted and unfair. But not today. Two of Philadelphia’s four big municipal unions have utterly disgraced themselves with their endorsements of Milton Street, the former federal prisoner who—tragically—is Michael Nutter’s only opposition in this May’s primary election.

The city’s firefighters union went there first.

“In a perfect world, candidates would be perfect,” shrugged IAFF president BIlly Gault, as he tried yesterday afternoon to explain the inexplicable. “In elections, you can’t beat someone with no one. Milton Street offered himself as a candidate.”

In other words, he has a pulse. And that was enough for the firefighters.

District Council 33, the city’s biggest union, representing 9,900 blue-collar workers, such as garbage collectors and road workers, quickly followed the firefighters’ lead.

“Everybody deserves a second chance,” DC 33 chief Pete Matthews told the Inquirer, when asked why he would endorse Street.

Now this is progressive thinking. Ex-offenders not only deserve a chance in the job market. They deserve to be considered for mayor as well. Never mind that Street—who went to federal jail for tax evasion—still owes the City of Philadelphia $388,000.

Remind me: How, again, are firefighters and trash collectors paid? Are taxes somehow involved?

The charitable read is to look at this as a powerful statement of dissatisfaction with Nutter, and it’s true that city unions have plenty of legitimate reasons to be unhappy with the Mayor. DC 33 has been working under an expired contract for nearly two years, meaning their members’ pay has been effectively frozen.

The firefighters did get a new contract through the mandatory arbitration process, but Nutter has appealed the award, infuriating the firefighters. On top of that, the Nutter administration has closed seven fire companies, imposed rolling brownouts on fire stations, gone after the golden goose of firefighter overtime and successfully gotten city paramedics removed from the union.

It seems to me that the city’s budget crisis forced Nutter’s hand, but I get that his moves were sure to anger city workers. So why didn’t the unions line up a credible candidate of their own ahead of the election? Why not endorse one of the GOP candidates, John Featherman or Karen Brown? Why not, in DC 33’s case, go on strike?

Instead they endorsed Street. It was, at least, a revealing move. We have a better sense now of the pettiness and intransigence that the Nutter administration has been dealing with as it tries to bargain with its workers. Former Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver said it well on Twitter: “I hope its clearer now what the Mayor has had to deal with. It’s like trying to play checkers with someone who screams and eats the pieces.”

By definition, unions are supposed to be self-serving. Their job is to fight for the best wages, benefits and working conditions for their members, which usually is in the long-term best interests of the broader middle class. But I guess I figured that public-employee unions also had at least some obligation to the well-being of the city as a whole.

Now we know different.

As bad as this makes DC 33 and the firefighters look, it’s still terrible news for Nutter. Street was always going to be a problem for the incumbent Mayor. Now it looks like Nutter actually has a fight on his hands. Not for the nomination itself. Nutter should still win that comfortably. But it is looking more and more like Street has the potential to win an embarrassingly large number of votes, hobbling Nutter’s second term before it begins.

It would have been better for everyone, Nutter included, if he faced a serious challenge from a credible Democrat. Instead it’s sideshow time, and Milton Street is once again playing the role of ringmaster.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Smoke, mirrors, and taxes

by pkerkstra on March 30, 2011

Nutter and City Council pull a fast one. In a way, I’m kind of impressed. My inaugural column for the Inquirer. Excerpt:

Philadelphia politics is better known for its blunt force than its sophistication. This time, though, Nutter and Council were uncannily convincing in their conniving.

The problem isn’t the tax hike itself. Good arguments can be made for permanently raising property taxes. But instead of making a case on the merits, Nutter and Council seem to deliberately confuse the issue.

For cover, they are using a pending switch to a new method for assessing properties, scheduled for 2012. A new system really is necessary, as the old one is unfair and inaccurate. But any fix that rights those wrongs will lead to many taxpayers’ owing more, even as other taxpayers owe less.

For a long time, political players like Nutter proclaimed that the switch would be revenue-neutral, meaning the city itself wouldn’t make any extra cash.

To win acceptance, they wanted to say, we’re doing this for the sake of accuracy and fairness, not to raise revenue.

Now, though, they seem to be figuring something else entirely, like: We’re going to get pilloried when we redo assessments, so we might as well go ahead and get some real money.

On Sunday, the Inquirer began a seven-day series on violence in Philadelphia public schools. The coverage has been damning, filled with sentences like this: “On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted or victims of other violent crimes.” And still the story might not have even been the most damaging article featuring School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to appear in the Inquirer recently.

Yesterday, former Inquirer reporter Dwight Ott penned an op-ed for the paper titled “How I learned not to call Ackerman at home.” In it, Ott, who was working on assignment for the Philadelphia Tribune, describes how he placed a fruitless phone call to Ackerman’s home to ask her about rumors that her home and car had been vandalized. Ott writes that Ackerman didn’t say much at all

“Two plainclothes Philadelphia police detectives showed up at the door of my house in South Jersey … My ensuing chat with the police took about an hour, over the course of which they questioned me extensively and asked to use my computer—which, having nothing to hide, I also allowed them to do… When the episode was finally over, it began to sink in that I had just been accused of threatening the life of a public official—and extensively interrogated by the police—simply because I had the audacity to call her at home.”

Full disclosure: I know and like Ott. Which is why I can say it is ludicrous that Ackerman would have considered him a threat. The man is a gentle, old-school reporter with a talent for wheedling stories out of a subset of the city that the press often ignores. Plus, he stores notes from interviews in his hat (yes, his hat).

On its own, an episode like this could be dismissed as a misunderstanding. But this is hardly the first time Ackerman has displayed dictatorial qualities. There was the district’s aborted plan to fire Hope Moffet (the teacher who dared dissent), and her crackdown last year on staffers suspected of leaking information to the press. Further back, there was her disastrous appearance in front of City Council last May and her tone deaf response to the racially motivated violence at South Philadelphia High.

I thought Ackerman’s many critics had judged her too fast. It seemed hasty to me when Buzz Bissinger dubbed her “Queen Arlene” back in 2009. Obviously I was wrong. Whatever her qualities as an educator, Ackerman has got to get a handle on her imperial impulses.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Ramsey’s common touch

by pkerkstra on March 22, 2011

t’s looking a lot like Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will leave Philadelphia for the top cop job in his hometown of Chicago. That’s obviously bad news for Mayor Nutter’s campaign against violent crime. But it’s worse than that. If Ramsey goes, the administration will lose its most effective ambassador to the public, the single high-profile Nutter official with the common touch. With Ramsey gone, it’ll just be Nutter and the eggheads. Now I like a lot of the eggheads. Many of them are very good at what they do. But none of them have Ramsey’s gift for communication, or his natural ease with average Philadelphians.

There haven’t been many police commissioners in Philadelphia who’ve won the respect of both rank-and-file cops and most residents. By and large, Ramsey has. Sure, some of that has to do with his actual policing accomplishments. Violent crime and homicides fell off pretty sharply in 2008, when Ramsey and Nutter took over. But I’d contend his personality has as much to do with his popularity as anything else. Nothing about Ramsey feels forced or fake. There’s something about him that makes him feel approachable (maybe it’s the freckles?), but nobody would suggest that he’s soft. He has a knack for finding just the right tone to meet the occasion, whether it’s mourning the loss of a fallen officer or firing rogue cops.

A big part of it is he sounds like a normal guy when he talks, which is a real rarity for this administration. He once told a writer for Philadelphia magazine that “the streets are a self-cleaning oven. You get dirty, it’s only a matter of time before you make enemies and someone takes you out.” He may not actually divulge more information than an average commissioner, but when Ramsey talks, you feel like you’re getting an unfiltered look at the truth.

Still, I’ve marveled at the way he’s emerged almost completely unscathed from incidents that would have sunk a lot of other public officials. The number of dirty cops who have been exposed on his watch is astronomical. Just ask Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker of the Daily News, who won a Pulitzer Prize documenting just some of the criminal behavior in the police ranks. And yet hardly anybody suggested that Ramsey should go.

To the contrary, Nutter is publicly lobbying Ramsey to stay. I hope he does. But don’t count on it. Chicago is home to him. It’s got a famous new mayor in Rahm Emmanuel, and—in Ramsey’s own telling—the crime in Chicago is easier to get a handle on than it is in Philadelphia. The money is better there too.

I’m sure Nutter can find a policing whiz to replace Ramsey if he does go. Reducing crime is one of Nutter’s top priorities, and the job would no doubt be attractive to a lot of candidates. But the odds are low the mayor can find anyone with anything like Ramsey’s innate talent for winning over the public.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Pennsylvania’s Wisconsin Moment

by pkerkstra on March 1, 2011

The future of the labor movement seems to hang in the balance in Wisconsin, and the national press is busy speculating where public employee unions will get whacked next. Ohio? Indiana? Maybe even Pennsylvania? Don’t expect the commonwealth to be at the forefront of any union-busting wave, no matter how much Koch money comes this way. It’s been almost entirely overlooked in the Wisconsin mess, but lawmakers in Harrisburg have already seriously considered limiting collective bargaining rights here in Pennsylvania back in the summer of 2009.

The movement did not last long, though. As soon as the unions caught on to what was happening, they obliterated the reforms overnight.

Still, the episode is instructive. It showed there are pols in Pennsylvania on both sides of the aisle who would dearly like to limit unions’ collective bargaining rights on big issues like pensions and health care, which are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s chief targets. But 2009’s battle suggests that labor in Pennsylvania remains strong enough to snuff out any such movement in its infancy.

It was Philadelphia’s fiscal crisis that prompted the whole debate. Remember? City Council had denied Mayor Nutter’s request to raise property taxes. So the mayor was forced to go hat in hand to Harrisburg, where he asked for the state’s permission to temporarily raise the sales tax and defer pension payments.

Some Republicans in the State Senate sensed an opportunity in the city’s crisis to deal a blow to the labor movement and shore up municipal pension funds across the state. Instead of simply granting Philadelphia the relief it sought, the senate passed a bill that overhauled the pension systems for local workers in cities and towns across the commonwealth.

The bill would have effectively killed unions’ collective bargaining rights over retirement benefits in those municipalities with stressed pension systems, like Philadelphia’s (and also Pittsburgh’s, Scranton’s, Bristol’s, York’s and so on).

The bill seemed to come out of nowhere. Sure, pension reform had been debated for a long time, but its prospects had seemed dim. All of a sudden there it was, and Democratic legislators were presented with what was for them a grim choice: bail out Philly and gut collective bargaining, or preserve union power and risk the mass layoff of cops and other city workers in Philadelphia.

Organized labor was caught unawares, and for a stunning moment, it looked like the bill might pass. Gov. Rendell was ready to sign it, telling the Inquirer‘s editorial board at the time “what the senate did is basically sound … it’s very, very difficult to oppose it.”

The state House was controlled by Democrats back then, but would Philadelphia’s delegation side with Republicans in order to the get the city the budget relief it so desperately needed?

As it turns out, no.

Public employee unions across Pennsylvania began applying intense pressure to state senators and representatives. Arguably the most effective lobbying was done by Fraternal Order of Police lodges in counties and cities with far more Republican leanings than Philadelphia. Unlike the white-collar unions, cops and firefighters have plenty of friends on the GOP side of the aisle in Pennsylvania. As soon as the union lobbying began, the house rejected the senate’s bill, and the senate eventually agreed to rescue Philadelphia while leaving pensions more or less alone and not touching collective bargaining rights at all.

Now a lot has changed since the summer of 2009. The Tea Party was in its infancy back then, and Republicans have since gained control of both chambers in Harrisburg and the governor’s office. So perhaps an attack on collective bargaining in this more conservative political environment would be more successful now than in 2009.

But considering that a more limited version of the Wisconsin reforms failed here less than two years ago, despite the cover of far more serious financial crisis and a Democratic governor’s support, it seems unlikely. And Gov. Corbett apparently realizes that.

“This is Pennsylvania, not Wisconsin,” Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley told the Morning Call last week. “We’ve had Act 195 [the collective bargaining law] since 1970, and I anticipate that we will continue to have it … I don’t think a bill [repealing it] has a chance in Pennsylvania.”

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Michael Nutter, Mayor Enigma

by pkerkstra on February 22, 2011

Councilman Michael Nutter was the confrontational policy wonk who got results. Candidate Nutter was the anti-crime crusader who would clean up City Hall. What about Mayor Nutter. Who’s he? That’s a question that can’t be answered in just a few words.

He’s a solid manager who has tweaked city government, but declined to reinvent it. And he’s the guy who preserved a lot of programs in tough times, but only after trying to close libraries and fire stations first. Oh, and he’s the guy who has pissed off everyone from City Council to city labor unions, even as he refrains from challenging them head on.

In other words, Mayor Nutter, even after three years on the job, is something of an enigma. Unlike Nutter the candidate, or Nutter the councilman, Nutter the mayor is a puzzle to the public.

Strange as it sounds, that might be to Nutter’s political advantage.

Nutter’s numerous critics so far seem unable to mount a clear, convincing case against him, perhaps because nobody agrees on just what kind of mayor he is. Depending on who’s doing the bashing, Nutter is either anti-little people or anti-business. He’s either failed to clean house fast enough, or he’s unnecessarily alienated the party insiders he needs to get things done.

You’re left with the sense that a lot of people are vaguely dissatisfied with the mayor, but they’re unable to articulate why. It’s tough to beat an opponent who defies easy characterization.

With this morning’s news that Tom Knox will endorse Nutter instead of challenging him, the primary field looks almost entirely clear for the incumbent mayor. So far, Nutter’s only declared opponents are Milton Street and John Featherman, a Republican who won’t even get the endorsement of his own party. Tax reform advocate Brett Mandel is mulling over a challenge, but he appears to doubt that people are willing to cross a sitting mayor, particularly when there’s no black and white case against Nutter.

Isaiah Thompson wrestled with this dynamic in last week’s City Paper, when he wrote that “even if he wins re-election, Nutter’s path forward isn’t obvious. Then again, neither is he.”

Love him or hate him, nobody was unclear on who John Street was. Fans saw a neighborhood mayor who shifted focus and funds to down-and-out communities. Foes saw Street as an abrasive, racially divisive figure who was hostile to Center City.

Same for Rendell. Pro: He balanced the books and restored Philadelphia’s image and self-confidence. Con: He was Fast Eddie.

At the Daily News, Larry Platt argued last week that “the Nutter mayoralty is, at heart, a failure of narrative. What, after all, does Michael Nutter stand for? Where is Philadelphia, in his mind, five or 10 or 20 years down the road?”

I’m not sure it’s automatic that a failed narrative necessarily means a failed mayoralty. However swept up the city was in the bold image of the future Nutter laid out three years ago, most Philadelphians will settle for competence and core services, particularly in tough times (see Ben Waxman’s take from last week).

Inasmuch as they acknowledge at all that Nutter lacks a clear identity (which isn’t very much), administration officials tend to say that grand narratives go out the window fast when the economy melts down.

Now that the city’s budget crisis is easing, Nutter has a chance to sharpen his blurry image. Odds are, his re-election isn’t riding on it. But it’s hard to see Philadelphians rallying to him like they did in 2008 as long as they can’t figure the guy out.

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

Can Michael Nutter be beat?

by pkerkstra on February 16, 2011

According to a poll released last week, a majority of Philadelphians say Michael Nutter doesn’t deserve a second term. Given his first three years in office, who can blame them? Services have been slashed. Taxes have been increased. City unemployment is sky-high.

It’s reasonable to argue that the economy is to blame for most of that, not Nutter. But voters aren’t always reasonable. It would be a challenge to knock him off, but in theory at least, Nutter is vulnerable, particularly if challenged by a candidate who could appeal strongly to black voters.

And yet, there doesn’t look to be a single Democrat willing to challenge the mayor in this May’s Democratic primary, with the comical exception of Milton Street.

What gives?

The easy answer is that it’s tradition. The last incumbent Democratic mayor to lose a re-election bid in Philadelphia was Richard Vaux in 1858. The last sitting mayor to face a serious primary challenge was Wilson Goode Sr., who handily defeated Ed Rendell (and later, Frank Rizzo) in 1987. And that was after MOVE. Wannabe mayors in Philadelphia just don’t see the percentage in taking on incumbents and are generally content to wait for an open year.

But there’s more to it than that.

There’s a real shortage of viable mayoral candidates. Nobody out there right now seems to have the necessary mix of talent, experience, profile and gumption to take Nutter out. The window has closed for a lot of the old guard, like Bob Brady, Dwight Evans, or veteran council members like Jim Kenney or Marian Tasco. They’ve been out there too long, or have already been rejected too many times, to have a real shot at catching fire in a race against an incumbent. Fresher faces — like Councilman Bill Green, D.A. Seth Williams, Controller Alan Butkovitz, and State Rep. Cherelle Parker — could use more seasoning.

Still, Green — who is as impatient as they come — might have taken a shot were it not for Philly good government laws that have the unintended effect of helping out incumbents. With individual campaign contributions in the city capped at $2,500, and PAC gifts limited to $10,000, raising money in a hurry is a challenge. Nutter, knowing he would seek re-election, was able to get his biggest supporters to max out their contributions to him each of the past three years, helping him build a $1.25 million warchest.

“Basically the campaign finance limits prevent somebody from playing catchup to to a guy with more than a million in the bank,” says Green, who ended the year with just $200,000.

To make matters worse for Green, city law requires that Philadelphia office-holders seeking another elected position resign their old jobs first. So Green would have to give up his council seat for what would likely have been a losing bid against Nutter. Zack Stalberg at the Committee of 70 thinks too much is made of the campaign finance caps, but he agrees that the resign-to-run rule “makes elections less competitive.”

Of course, another way to look at it is that Green, Sam Katz, Anthony Williams and all the others who have hinted they could do a better job than Nutter are political cowards. After all, Nutter resigned his council seat to run for mayor in 2007, back when nobody but Nutter and maybe Olivia thought he had a chance in hell of winning.

As recently as December, I thought Green would run. He definitely wanted to. But between now and then he figured it would be too hard to raise the cash to compete and too difficult to craft a campaign message that could effectively damage Nutter.

“He’s been a competent caretaker. That’s not what we expected, from him, we expected more. But nothing horrible has happened in the city,” says Green.

Nutter is also a tireless and effective campaigner. Nobody knows city government better, and few Philly politicians can match his intellect. The mayor has also tended to his vulnerable flanks in recent months by working on his relations with key constituencies and interest groups, like the Black Clergy of Philadelphia. For all the troubles of the past three years, Nutter remains a formidable candidate.

But look, knocking off an incumbent mayor is hard anywhere. Big city mayors all over the country cruise to easy re-elections all the time. There are cities, though, where primary challenges are serious, and in a handful of cases they’re successful. For instance last year, former Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty — a guy who has more in common with Nutter than the mayor might like to admit — lost his primary to D.C.’s council president.

Barring some major surprise, Philadelphians won’t get a competitive primary this year. And depending on what Tom Knox ultimately does this fall, the city might not get a competitive general election either. That would mean a missed opportunity to wrestle with the city’s problems, a lost chance to debate its future.

Worse, without a competitive campaign there’s no reason for Nutter to take stock of how he’s doing and retool. A competitive race would give Nutter a chance to reconnect with voters, and clarify his murky agenda for the next four years. There are Nutter staffers who are itching for another campaign. They think Nutter would wipe the floor with Green, Williams, Katz or any other of the would-be candidates.

The trouble is, they’re almost certainly right, and the would-be contenders know it.

(This item originally appeared on PhillyPost)